Winston T. Boogie
Senior HTF Member
- May 31, 2004
- Agua Verde
- Real Name
- Pike Bishop
I wanted to start this thread because first of all, this is a truly great film and important western, and second it has been out for a while on blu-ray and in searching I don't think it has a thread here.
So, let me just get out of the way how this disc looks and point out I am not Robert Harris. This is not a "restoration" and I don't think there has been any work done on the picture to "clean it up"...not that it really needs much as it seems in pretty fine shape...however, my guess is this is an old scan and if given a new 4K type treatment it would probably look pretty amazing. The 2.0 audio sounds excellent and quite clear to my ears. No clean-up done on this either but really it seems not to have any annoying factors and is very crisp. So, overall for a low budget Western this is a great looking and sounding disc. It is a sizable upgrade over the DVD and I highly recommend getting this if you enjoy westerns and great filmmaking.
It is available from Amazon UK and is a region B locked disc so, yes, you must be region free to enjoy this one. This picture, to me anyway, is a pretty great excuse to go region free if you have not already. Bottom line, very good presentation of an outstanding film from Eureka. I don't know if a US label has any plans for this one, they should, and this really is a Criterion worthy film so I'd love to see them handle it.
Speaking of Criterion, this disc does not come with a package of extras on the level of what Criterion would generally work to provide. If a US label does release this film they should make an effort to get Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino to talk about it as they are big fans of the picture and one viewing of it will reveal why. What is here for extras is very good though, you get a nice booklet with an essay by Glenn Kenny and an interview with director Andre De Toth and an outstanding video discussion of the picture with Bertrand Tavernier, who obviously counts himself as a big fan as well.
So, let's get to the film.
This comes toward the back end of De Toth's career in 1959. He had considerable control over this picture, insisting that he shoot it in black and white (a great choice considering the snow covered exteriors) and this makes sense because it is a hybrid of western and noir. So, the beautiful black and white photography really compliments the material. He also insisted on shooting this outdoors in Oregon in the snow. He had the town built in the mountains (actually twice because the first time they built it they did not match the compass headings for the streets he specified) so we get absolutely gorgeous settings and horses struggling to make their way through real snow. This was not an easy shoot and the crew complained that they should be getting extra pay for having to endure the elements which caused De Toth to show up bare chested and work in the cold and snow that way to shut them up. The complaints did stop.
One guy that did not complain though was DP Russell Harlan, a favorite of Howard Hawks, who loved shooting outdoors and outdoor photography. Obviously Harlan was the perfect choice to handle the camera here and the proof is in what he gets up there on the screen.
The script is credited to Philip Yordan but as legend has it he did not write it. Andre De Toth claims he wrote the script with an assist from Robert Ryan but did not care if Yordan took the credit because he really liked Yordan. I have not researched this but the rumor is although Yordan has many screenplays credited to him he actually did not write many of them. It seems Yordan was such a great guy, and quite generous, that people were fine with him taking credit for all kinds of scripts. I don't know how true this is but that is the claim. De Toth quipped that the most important writing Yordan did was signing checks but he apparently loved the man.
The story here is a nasty one. Basically, there are no "good guys" in this picture. Everybody is pretty brutal. Our "hero" is the Robert Ryan character but this guy wants to murder the guy that is married to the woman he wants and burn his wagon...and this is not even the main plot, this is just a warm-up to the story that is revealed in the opening scene.
The picture opens with Ryan and his top hand riding into town with what appears to be the intention of starting a fight with the farmer Tina Louise is married to so the farmer will react and he can kill him, take his wife, and continue to use his land to water his cattle.
In most films this would make Ryan's Blaise Starrett the villain of the picture...but no, here he is the hero. This should tell you how dark and nasty this film is and give you an idea why guys like Scorsese and Tarantino love it.
Years before Spaghetti westerns would make all sorts of violent and nasty characters "heroes" and a decade before Sam Peckinpah would unleash The Wild Bunch on the world, De Toth gave us Day of the Outlaw. I can only believe that those Italian directors and Peckinpah must have loved this picture.
Everything about this film screams menace. The setting of the town cut off in the mountains, the snowstorm descending on them, the vile bunch of thugs that ride into town with Burl Ives who openly express their enjoyment of murder and rape, and the cutthroat attitudes of the townspeople themselves toward each other. It's not a good group of folks.
Tina Louise, who plays Helen Crane the wife of the farmer that Starrett wants to kill, is quite a piece of work as well. She is no faithful little wife to Hal Crane and basically is doing what she needs to so she can survive in what is a brutally harsh setting. De Toth said Louise was not much of an actor but he gets out of her here probably the performance of her career. He did this by using the fact, according to legend, that Louise really was attracted to Robert Ryan and also by having her totally manhandled in what may be one of the western genre's most brutal dance sequences ever committed to film. He did not tell Louise what was coming in the dance scene and if you watch her face the look and emotions she shows are real. Not only was De Toth an outstanding visual stylist but he also knew how to get the most from his actors.
It seems quite obvious that this film was a big influence on Tarantino's The Hateful Eight as long before Quentin trapped a bunch of brutal characters that wanted to do gruesome things to each other in a snowy mountain setting, De Toth did it in Day of the Outlaw.
So, what we have is a wonderful western noir, that is beautifully photographed and conceived with tremendous performances from all the actors, shot in gorgeous outdoor settings, and fantastic, albeit dark, writing. A picture that not only has stood the test of time but that influenced many pictures that have come after it.
This is most definitely a must see.